Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

Things We Want

Jonathan Marc Sherman
Play With Fire and Swaggering Crow Productions
Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
30 May 2018 to 09 June 2018

Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Things We Want concerns three brothers orphaned by the suicides of their parents. Losing one parent to suicide might be considered unfortunate but when it happens twice it could seriously mess up the surviving members of the family.

Teddy (Alex Phelps) is something of an over-achiever and performs his job selling spurious self-help products with an evangelical zeal. Alcoholic Sty (William J Holstead) is a former drug dealer and has self-diagnosed chronic fatigue syndrome. Youngest brother Charlie (Patrick Young) is so devastated by the break-up of his relationship that he has dropped out of chef school. Sty introduces Charlie to recovering alcoholic Stella (Hannah Ellis Ryan) a pianist with arthritis and they seem to make a connection. But in Jonathan Marc Sherman’s rapidly-changing world nothing stays the same for long and affections can shift without warning.

The setting for Things We Want – three characters living together whose lifestyle is disrupted by a new arrival - feels like a classic sit-com. However, although the sit-com ingredients are present the play is a mirror image of what we might expect from that genre. While sit-coms are built around situations with which the audience may be familiar, in this play the dialogue and developments seem deliberately artificial and alienating.

This approach raises challenges for the cast who, in the first Act at least, seem to be trying really hard to make the script work. However, no-one seems sure as to the nature of the play – whether it is a satire on contemporary fads or a black comedy – so some of the gags fall flat. Most of the laughs in the first Act come from director Daniel Bradford developing some silent scenes with the brothers sulking and storming in and out of their rooms.

Things We Want concerns characters who are each seeking a form of happiness and finding that the process is continual and can never end. There is a theme of transformation with references to Pinocchio and the characters swap personalities with the roles from Act One reversed in Act Two which finds Sty on the waggon and Charlie in a relationship but Teddy a self-pitying drunk. It is as if there is a spiritual requirement for balance that dictates if one character achieves contentment another has to suffer. It makes for a more relaxed and less forced second half in which the performances are more natural and convincing but does make you wonder how much of the first Act was really necessary.

There is much in the script that is vague and illogical. It seems unlikely that recovering alcoholic like Stella would form a relationship with people who are constantly drunk. The opening scene of Charlie at the window where his parents died suggests he too may be suicidal and, as his final action in the play is to close the window, that he changes his mind yet why this is the case is hard to determine from the script. The cast make admirable efforts with Things We Want but they are working with a script that has significant flaws.

Reviewer: David Cunningham


Comment by David Murray

I liked this play. I found the themes of suffering and inability to find happiness fascinating. In particular the exchange in the first half between Stella and Charlie where they each think they are agreeing on what happiness means to them but are clearly talking at cross purposes. He really is looking for a pure, familial happiness whereas hers is very self destructive. 

So I liked the reversal in fortunes after the break, so that we see the flip side for each character. Teddy with his wild extremes, Charlie just unable to ever find the happiness he wants, and Sty doing what he needs to get by.